Like thousands of others, Gopal Sethy, a native of Orissa, too came to Chennai seeking employment. Three years after his arrival, he has become a supervisor at the Ambattur Industrial Estate, home to thousands of migrant workers hailing mostly from Orissa, West Bengal and Bihar.

“I send home Rs. 5,000 every month and manage my expenses with the remaining amount. I started as a machine operator in an aluminium foundry. It was difficult to adjust to the environment when I was new here. I have now found friends in the estate as well,” says 22-year-old Gopal, who understands Tamil and has picked up a few words the language.

The influx of migrant workers to the estate started six years ago when the industrial units, facing a severe manpower crunch, began employing them. Now, of the nearly two lakh direct and indirect employees at the estate, migrant labourers, including some from Andhra Pradesh, account for nearly 30,000 working mostly in the aluminium foundries and engineering units.

Several of them have worked at the estate for many years and, satisfied with their permanent jobs and a weekly off, do not wish to change jobs. Pinku Nayak, one of the workers, says, “I feel safe here. I stay close to my workplace and spend my weekly holiday playing cricket or carrom.” The native of Keonjhar district, Orissa, discontinued school after class X and followed his brothers to the estate.

According to K. Ayyappan, a unit holder, earlier, the estate had many people coming to work from Tiruvallur and Arakkonam. “When they moved to jobs in bigger companies and industrial corridors in neighbouring districts, we had little choice but to fill the gap with labourers from other States. I don’t mind the additional responsibility of finding accommodation for them,” he said. Many unit holders have not only provided accommodation and food for the migrant labourers but have also ensured that they have avenues for recreation.

Members of the Ambattur Industrial Estate Manufacturers’ Association (AIEMA) said employing workers from other states also had its disadvantages such as increase in expenditure incurred in providing food and accommodation and a workforce that may quit at any time, or avails of leave often.

AIEMA’s president P.S. Ramesh said some units are forced to work with a much-depleted workforce when the migrant workers go on long holidays. “We are planning to approach the government to support our initiative to provide dormitories for the labourers as rental values have gone up manifold in the neighbourhood,” he said.

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